Dorothy Wordsworth

“Few lovers of Wordsworth’s poetry have failed to realized something of what he owed to his sister Dorothy; the more discerning have seen in her, not merely the alert companion of his creative hours and their faithful chronicler, but the deepest and most permanent influence upon his life. Her diaries and private correspondence go far to explain that influence.” (de Selincourt 1)

“Complementing her commitment to her domestic life in the Lake District are travel narratives in which Dorothy Wordsworth represents herself as the woman who goes out to seek experience in the company of family and friends” (Levin xviii)

Dorothy Wordsworth was born on December 25, 1771 to parents John Wordsworth and Anne Cookson in Cockermouth, Cumbria. D. Wordsworth would become the only girl in the Wordsworth family and the middle child of five siblings having two older brothers, Richard (1768) and William (1770), and two younger brothers, John (1772) and Christopher (1774).

Sadly, the Wordsworth children lost both their parents in their youth with their mother passing away in 1778 and their father passing approximately five years later in 1783. The parents’ deaths resulted in D. Wordsworth having a tumultuous and unsteady childhood as she was bounced around the homes of various familial relations and boarding schools until her young adult years. In 1788, D. Wordsworth accepted an invitation from Rev. Cookson and his new wife Dorothy to reside with them in Forcett. Here, Wordsworth began teaching Sunday School.

In 1794, D. Wordsworth was reunited with her brother William when the two decided to tour Grasmere and the Lake District of England. In 1795, the pair set up lodgings at Racedown in Dorset. It was also in this year that the Wordsworths met Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who would later become a great companion and a member of their literary circle. In 1797, D. Wordsworth and her brother relocated to Alfoxden House, which was nearer to Coleridge. Only a year later, Wordsworth began the first of her famous travel journals (now not extant) The Alfoxden Notebook.

Silhouette Portrait of D. Wordsworth (Courtesy of Google Images)

In 1799, after a tour of Germany (on which D. Wordsworth composed the Journal of Visit to Hamburgh and of Journey from Hamburgh to Goslar), D. Wordsworth and her brother moved into the beloved Dove Cottage. It was while residing at Dove Cottage that D. Wordsworth began The Grasmere Journal. Dove Cottage was a happy home for the Wordsworth family and they “settled down at Grasmere as though they had lived there all their lives”; however, it was during these years that D. Wordsworth’s health began to waver as she suffered from headaches and various stomach problems (de Selincourt 113). In 1803, less than a year after William married Mary Hutchinson (much to D. Wordsworth’s assumed chagrin), the siblings joined Coleridge on a six-week tour of Scotland where D. Wordsworth composed her Recollections of a Tour Made in Scotland. Upon returning from the tour, D. Wordsworth’s health worsened as she began losing teeth.

In 1806, after an eight-month visit to Coleorton as the guests of Lord and Lady Beaumont, the family (including D. Wordsworth’s young god-daughter, Dora) returned to Grasmere. As the Wordsworth family grew, they moved into more commodious housing: first, Allen Bank and later Rydal Mount. However, D. Wordsworth was always attached to Dove Cottage and supervised when it underwent several renovations for De Quincey in 1809, before leaving the Lake District in 1810 to visit London where she stayed with Charles and Mary Lamb. Upon returning home in 1811, Wordsworth and her family moved into the Grasmere Rectory.

The following four decades of D. Wordsworth’s life oscillated between touring Western Europe and suffering from ailing health. In 1850, her dear brother William passed away leaving D. Wordsworth alone. She became increasingly weak and composed her last known letter in 1853. After suffering from poor health for most of her life, D. Wordsworth passed away in 1855 at the age of 84.

Middle Age Portrait of D. Wordsworth (Courtesy of Google Images)

D. Wordsworth composed many journals over her life in conjunction with some lesser-known poetry. She was always a private writer: allowing her manuscript journals to circulate only amongst friends and publishing very few items (mostly anonymously) during her lifetime. Despite refusing to call herself a writer, Wordsworth’s has identity has developed into an authorial one. As de Selincourt writes: “Dorothy Wordsworth illumined her brother’s life and poetry. She would have desired no fuller tribute” (1). However, her journals are now regarded as doing much more than enlightening readers to the personal life of William but are seen as great literary works in their own right. Her journals are admired for their flowing prose that provides detailed attention to picturesque, natural landscapes and unabashed insight into the daily lives of a Romantic circle of writers.

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